We all feel stressed out from time to time. It is a natural biological response to outside stimulus and the need to continually adapt in an ever-changing environment. Humans aren’t the only creatures that get stressed out, though. The truth is pretty much everything living you can think of on this planet gets stressed out, even insects. Just like humans, insects need the stress response to react to threats and other changes in their environment. Without it they wouldn’t survive this harsh world.
What do they get stressed out about, you ask? Well, that’s pretty easy; the exact same things we get stressed over. Since insects have a central nervous system, their stress response is actually much more similar to ours than you probably think. According to Sonny Ramaswamy, the Director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture as well as an entomologist, insects get stressed out if they are in a hot environment, a cold one, an environment where they are hungry, just to name a few. Our senses work to locate potential threats through our eyes, ears, and other sensory organs. When these sense a threat, they send a signal to the amygdala part of our brain. When we get stressed our amygdala, which is the part of our brain sensing potential threats, triggers the release of hormones, cortisol in particular. Cortisol is often called the stress hormone and boosts blood sugar. Adrenaline is also released, increasing our heart rate and preparing us to react to whatever threat is present.
The process is quite similar in insects. When they sense a potential threat with their eyes, antennae, etc., those sensors alert their brain, just like ours do. The brain releases stress hormones, in particular octopamine, which is similar to epinephrine, which is related to glucocorticoids. Just like with humans, these stress hormones help the insect prepare to deal with whatever potential threat they are facing. Insects can also alert other insects to their stress with the release of alarm pheromones. Think of it as the human equivalent to shouting for help.
Do you think you’ve ever seen an insect stressed out? Can you remember how they were acting?